In a secluded villa on Venice’s Lido, Faraz Ayub is quietly basking in his star-making role.
The British actor is at the Venice International Film Festival for Sky Peals, a unique science-fiction-tinged drama in which he plays Adam, a lonely soul who works the night shift in a fast food restaurant in a motorway service station.
Half-English, half-Pakistani, Adam seems adrift in this nocturnal nowheresville and the film brings to mind Jonathan Glazer’s masterful sci-fi Under the Skin, which screened here 10 years ago.
When he started shooting, Ayub was able to draw on what many endured in the pandemic: loneliness and isolation. “I definitely utilised those feelings and those anxieties, and how everybody was feeling around me … the isolation was easy to plug into.”
It has its premiere as part of the critics’ week strand of the festival.
Before filming, he and debut writer-director Moin Hussain built up a portrait of an insular young man struggling to find his place in the world.
The film’s creepy atmosphere comes as Adam learns his estranged father has died. More disturbingly, he discovers his father believed he was an alien. Could it be for real? And what does that mean for him? Adam starts watching security footage, looking at his father’s final movements, which does nothing to allay his fears.
He suffers blackouts and even sets off several car alarms when he walks past them.
Performing the quiet, introspective Adam was “intense”, says Ayub, but his journey becomes a metaphor for identity, race and culture, and our feelings towards otherness. “There is a question he’s asked in the film: where are you from?" he says.
"And he mistakes that to be who he is, but it touches on these themes.” As the sign on the door reads: “Enjoy the rest of your journey.” Perhaps Adam and his father are indeed from a galaxy far, far away.
While Ayub was born and raised in the East Midlands in the UK, he has similar origins to his character. His grandfather, who was in the British Army, came from Pakistan. And like Adam’s wider family, he also came from a strong Muslim background. “It’s a significant part of my family’s cultural background,” he says, “and ancestral background as well. I have religious family members but religion is something that is much more personal to people rather than something maybe they wear outwardly.”
Ayub started to act when he was 14, joining the Television Workshop, a Bafta-winning drama group in Nottingham that has produced such talents as Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Samantha Morton (Minority Report) and Jack O’Connell, who is in Michael Mann’s Ferrari, which also had its premiere at Venice.
Ayub, who landed his first role in the 2001 mini-series In a Land of Plenty, found his path to acting through “the workshop”, as he calls it. “In that part of the country, there’s not really a lot of avenues into the business," he says.
His training may have stemmed from the East Midlands, but his cinematic influences came from all over the globe. “Hong Kong cinema played a huge influence, especially action cinema,” he says, citing City on Fire director Ringo Lam and Infernal Affairs actor Andy Lau.
Prolific Pakistani actor Sultan Rahi, who holds the unofficial record “for making more movies than anyone in history”, is another favourite. “He had a very strong cultural influence. He still is remembered to this day," he adds.
Ayub was also inspired by seeing Tom Cruise in the Mission: Impossible franchise. “My love for acting began because of cinema,” he adds. “So there was always that excitement there.”
And now it’s his turn. While he has recently worked in touchstone TV dramas like Silent Witness and Line of Duty, Sky Peals marks Ayub’s first movie lead.
“You only approach it the same way as you do any other role,” he says, “but obviously, with this one being a lead, a lot of the focus is on you doing the job.”
Ayub, who also currently features in the second season of prison comedy Screw, is delighted by how Sky Peals turned out. “You’re physically exhausted, but at the same time, you’re creating art,” he says. “So it’s labouring in our own way, but with a passion for what we love.”
The sky’s the limit, you might say.